Stiga Poly ball

June 26, 2014

North American Cup

Kind of a big upset last night - 12-year-old Crystal Wang upset top seeded Lily Zhang in the semifinals of Women's Singles in a nail-biting seven-gamer (8,5,5,-3,-9,-6,7)  where Lily almost came back from down 0-3. Lots of incredible rallies. I was up late watching it - it started at 8PM western time, which is 11PM eastern time here in Maryland. Worse, I was up much later discussing the match and other issues with others via Facebook and messaging with Han Xiao, one of Crystal's regular practice partners. We're pretty proud of Crystal, who is from my club. She's too fast for me now, but for years I was one of her regular training partners and I coached her in many tournaments. She was training here at MDTTC (as she does essentially every day) just the day before, and then flew out to Vancouver, Canada. (Tournament was held in nearby Burnaby.) To get to the final Crystal had 4-1 wins over Liu Jiabao of Canada and USA's Erica Wu. In the final Crystal will play Mo Zhang of Canada.

In the Men's side, it's an all-USA final between Adam Hugh and Kanak Jha. That match starts at 8PM (i.e. 11 pm my time). Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Men's and Women's finals are tonight at 8PM and 9:20PM (that's 11PM and 12:20 AM eastern time, alas). Here's where you can watch the live streaming.

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was Day Three of Week Two of our Ten Weeks of Summer Camps. I could write about the camp - kids are making breakthroughs right and left, everyone's getting better (except us coaches, alas), and every day's highlight is the daily trip to 7-11. But for me, the dominating feature is physical and mental exhaustion. Ever spend an entire day coaching kids in the 6-8 age range? With a five-second attention span? And do this day after day? We have almost the same kids as the previous week, so they're into their eighth day of this. So I'm not just a coach, I'm their entertainer. However, the key thing to remember here is the rule of five - you have to say everything at least five times to get their attention. And getting them to pick up balls? It wasn't so hard on day one and two, but by day eight it's like pulling teeth. But somehow, inadvertently, and often against their will, they are rapidly improving. Now if I can only keep my sanity and not collapse physically, I'll be just fine! (My legs are pretty much dying right now.) 

Tactics Coaching

I had another tactics coaching session yesterday with Kaelin and Billy during the lunch break. The focus was on deceptive serving and serve variations, the tactics of long serves, receive, and rallying tactics. 

We went over the tactics of serving short. These including varying the placement, even of simple backspin serves; serving to the middle; serving very, very low; heavy no-spin serves; varying the backspin in side-backspin serves; serving with extra-heavy backspin; mixing in sidespin and side-top serves; serving with both sidespins with good placement; deceptive follow-throughs on serves; and serving half-long (so second bounce would be near the end-line); 

We went over the advantages of the various service depths, noting that the emphasis of short serves should be half-long serves, where the second bounce would be near the end-line. But we also went over the advantages of shorter serves - forcing a player to reach more for short serves to the forehand, and bringing a player in over the table so they aren't ready for the next shot. This latter is especially effective if you serve very short to the forehand, bringing the receiver in over the table, and then going after the deep backhand. But it's also somewhat risky as it gives the receiver a chance to flip aggressively into the very wide forehand, or down the line if you move to cover the forehand.

I also went over my Ten-Point Plan to Serving Success - and we spent some time going over each of these. (I wrote quite a bit about these and everything else I'm covering in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

  1. Serve legally
  2. Serve with a plan
  3. Maximize spin
  4. Vary your spin
  5. Disguise your spin
  6. Speed
  7. Low bounce
  8. Direction
  9. Depth
  10. Follow-up

We talked about serve deception, and the four main ways of doing this: sheer spin, semi-circular motion, exaggerating the opposite motion, and spin/no-spin serves by varying the contact point on the racket. We also went over the advantages of specific serves. For example, a primary advantage of the pendulum serve is that you can do either type of sidespin with the same motion until just before contact. A primary advantage of the backhand serve is that you see your opponent throughout the serve, and so see if he reacts to the serve too soon, allowing the server to change serves, such as a sudden fast serve if the opponent is reaching in or stepping around the backhand. We also talked about where to serve from, and why too many players repetitively serve from the backhand corner, ignoring the advantages of sometimes varying this. If you sometimes serve from the middle or forehand side, you mess up the opponent who's not used to this - try it and you'll be surprised how much trouble players have with this. Plus it gives you an angle into the forehand, especially the short forehand against players who like to receive short serves with their backhand. 

We went over what are commonly the most effective long serves. Every opponent is different, but I'd say the most essential serves - the ones that all players should develop, and yes, I mean you - are (for this I'm assuming righty vs. righty - others adjust): 

  • To the Backhand: Big breaking sidespin serves to the wide backhand that break to the right into the wide backhand, ranging from side-topspin, pure sidespin, and side-backspin, as well as a fast no-spin. The reverse sidespin serve can be almost as effective as a variation as it often catches the receiver off guard, and the returns tend to go to the server's forehand. 
  • To the Middle: Fast no-spin serves, and at least one side-top variation. Often a reverse pendulum serve is effective here. 
  • To the Forehand: Fast topspin serves where the direction is well disguised, along with at least one other sidespin or no-spin variation. 

We went over the tactics of receive. Against deep serves, you have to be aggressive unless you are a very defensive player. Against short serves, you can be either passive, disarming, or aggressive. Passive returns are common at lower levels, but unless the opponent is a weak attacker, they aren't too effective at higher levels if used too often. The most common passive receives are long pushes, though soft topspins may also be passive returns, depending on the opponent and how he handles them. Long pushes can be a bit more aggressive (or disarming) if done quick off the bounce and pretty fast. A disarming receive is one designed to stop the server's attack and get into a neutral rally. The classic disarming receive is a short push. Another is a quick flip to the server's weaker side. An aggressive push can also be disarming if the server isn't able to make a strong attack off it. An aggressive receive against a short serve is usually an aggressive flip. Ambitious players should learn all three types of these receives against short serves, but focus roughly equally on disarming and aggressive receives. 

We spent the rest of the session going over rallying tactics. This included when to respond. Usually you respond when you see what and where the opponent's shot is. But sometimes you can anticipate a shot, and move for the shot in the split second between when the opponent has committed to a shot and when you can see what the shot will be. 

We talked about the tools needed when rallying: at least one scary rallying shot (a big loop, a fast, aggressive backhand, etc.); quickness; speed; spin; depth (mostly deep on the table, other times short); placement (wide angles, elbow); variety; misdirection; and finally consistency, which is king. Then we went over the tactics of playing the weaker side (often by playing the stronger side first to draw the player out of position); down the line play; going to the same spot twice; placement of backhand attacks; forehand deception with shoulder rotation; changing the pace; rallying down faster, quicker players; where to place your put-aways; and developing an overpowering strength. (We ran out of time, so have one last item to cover here - playing lefties, which we'll talk about tomorrow.) 

Tomorrow we'll start going over the tactics against various styles, grips, and surfaces. 

Xu Xin: No Regrets in Choosing Penhold

Here's the interview.

Stiga ITTF Approved Plastic/Poly Ball Review

Here's the detailed video review (11:15) by Table Tennis Daily. It seems to play a bit different than the Nittaku poly ball I reviewed on June 16. Much of this was probably because the Nittaku ball was noticeably bigger and heavier while the Stiga ball was the same weight as a celluloid ball. With the bounce test, the Nittaku poly ball bounced higher than the celluloid, while Stiga poly ball they reviewed bounced lower. Both poly balls were harder to spin when looping. You can go straight to their conclusion at 9:10, where they sum things up in about 90 sec.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirty-four down, 66 to go!

  • Day 67: Mikael Andersson Details Creation of the ITTF’s Junior Program
  • Day 68: Jean-Michel Saive Recounts His Past and Present Successes

Lion Table Tennis

You can come up with your own caption for this table tennis cartoon. How about, "No, we don't want to play winners. We want to eat winners."

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